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SUMO: Haru Basho 2018 (Day 11)

It’s Day 11 of the Haru Basho and we’ve has a very sudden and very extensive shift on the leaderboard. If you’ll remember, yesterday at this time we had two undefeated rikishi, no one-loss rikishi, and seven two-loss rikishi. Now we have one sole undefeated leader—yokozuna Kakuryu—followed by a single one-loss rikishi—M6 Kaisei—followed by just a pair of two-loss rikishi—ozeki Takayasu and komusubi Ichinojo. All the other two loss rikishi lost yesterday.

To make matters even more interesting, Kakuryu and Ichinojo go head-to-head in the last match of the day today, so there will be SOME change to the leaderboard no matter WHAT happens!

So, what the heck happened yesterday? Why did all of those 7–2 rikishi fail to secure their eighth win? In the end, it really was just a confluence of interesting (and sometimes unlikely) occurrences. M17 Aoiyama lost to a longtime rival. M16 Daiamami and M13 Daishomaru both showed their inexperience. M14 Ikioi was just plain unlucky as his fingers got tangled up in his opponent’s topknot, which is an illegal maneuver, so despite executing a winning technique, he was declared the loser of the match. But the most frustrating was sekiwake Tochinoshin, who was facing ozeki Goeido.

Goeido has been running hot and cold all basho and seemed like he might be on the verge of another collapse that might lead him down the path to another embarrassing make-koshi [majority of losses] for the tournament. So rather than taking Tochinoshin on directly, he pulled a henka [jumped to the side at the initial charge]. Those who have been following my sumo coverage for a while will be familiar with the controversy surrounding the henka. It’s a completely legal move, though one that is considered to be “low class” particularly for high-ranking rikishi like ozeki and yokozuna. It’s especially frowned upon when it happens during a marquee match, that the audience both in the stadium and at home watching on TV is excited about. And THAT’S the kind of match this was.

Tochinoshin actually managed to right himself after flying by the side-stepping Goeido, but he was too off balance to survive the ozeki’s follow-up attack and got knocked sideways off the dohyo. Goeido got his his win, but he probably lost some fans in doing so. Me, I was already a Goeido skeptic at best (and an outright hater at worst) so he just made certain that my disposition toward him will not change anytime in the near future.

Ichinojo, another rikishi I’m highly skeptical of, has been proving me wrong all tournament, and no moreso than yesterday when he beat Kaisei, one of the co-leaders. Ichinojo played it smart and handed the big Brazilian his first loss of the basho. And today he faces Kakuryu. How strange is it that Ichinojo not only remains in contention this late in the tournament, but that all by himself he’s acting as a one-man spoiler, helping to decide who will remain in the yusho hunt, and who will join the ranks of the also-rans.

SUMO: Haru Basho 2018 (Day 10)

It’s Day 10 of the Haru Basho, and our undefeated co-leaders—yokozuna Kakuryu and M6 Kaisei—now have a two-win cushion between them and the group of seven 7–2 rikishi who most closely trail them. Yesterday, the only remaining one-loss rikishi—M16 Daiamami—lost for the second time, creating that gap and giving the leaders some breathing room. Still, the pressure is about to mount, particularly for Kakuryu, who over the next six days will have to face both ozeki, both sekiwake, and a komusubi.

Kaisei will have to face tough opponents, too . . . but not of that same level. Of course, Kakuryu is a yokozuna, so he SHOULD be able to hold his own against that group. But for the past three years, he’s been a relatively weak yokozuna who averages 3–4 losses among sanyaku opponents per basho. If he wants to win this yusho [tournament championship], he’s going to have to out-perform his historical average. And the truth is that even in his last two matches—againstM4 Shohozan and M4 Shodai respectively—Kakuryu was showing signs of fatigue and weakness. He was lucky to have won BOTH of those matches, and he knows that he can’t count on that luck holding for the rest of the week.

Meanwhile, those seven would-be contenders have to keep winning and HOPE that things turn in their favor. And every time two of them go head-to-head it will just rachet up the pressure for the whole yusho race.

M17 Aoiyama (7–2) vs. J1 Takekaze (7–2)—Today Aoiyama is facing a familiar face, visitin from the Juryo division. Takekaze is doing well in the J1 slot and will probably be back up in the Makuuchi division for May’s tournament, but today he makes a one-day return. Both rikishi need just one more win to secure their kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. (0:10)
M11 Tochiozan (3–6) vs. M16 Daiamami (7–2)—Daiamami stumbled yesterday, creating a buffer for the leaders. Now he’s tied with half-a-dozen other contenders for second place, but he needs to get right back to his winning ways if he wants to stay in the yusho hunt. Something has been wrong with Tochiozan all tournament. It’s not clear exactly what it is, but he’s off his game. (2:45)
M14 Ikioi (7–2) vs. M11 Yutakayama (6–3)—Ikioi came into this tournament looking like a near certain candidate for kyujo [absence due to injury], but he’s fought through an obvious thigh problem AND done so in a winning way. Now he needs just one more win to secure his kachi-koshi, and to stay at least tied for second place. (3:15)
M8 Kagayaki (4–5) vs. M13 Daishomaru (7–2)—Kagayaki is a rikishi who clearly has a learning/skill gap between himself and the top rikishi in the division. He definitely is strong enough to thrive and survive in the M9–16 ranks, but he never seems to be able to put up winning numbers once he’s ranked above that. He’s running about 50/50 so far this basho, so he might be able to break that streak. (4:50)
Komusubi Ichinojo (7–2) vs. M6 Kaisei (9–0)—Probably the most meaningful match of the day. It will show us whether Kaisei is ready to take his strong showing so far and pit it against the sanyaku rikishi. At the same time, it will show us how Ichinojo is going to react against an opponent who is roughly his equal in size, weight, and power. (9:20)
Ozeki Takayasu (7–2) vs. M4 Shodai (5–4)—Takayasu is going to have to stop pussy-footing around and show some strong sumo if he wants to beat Shodai. He doesn’t need to be especially graceful about it, Shodai hasn’t been performing that well this basho, but he has been stable and strong. Takayasu will have to WIN this match, rather than hope for it to be handed to him.(13:20)
Sekiwake Tochinoshin (7–2) vs. ozeki Goeido (6–3)—The match I’m most looking forward to. Both rikishi have been looking strong, and both need to dig in and show the world wat they’re worth. Tochinoshin needs the win to get his kachi-koshi and a share of second place, but Goeido is still a win behind him, and so needs those things even more desperately. I expect this to be a high-energy, power sumo match.  (13:55)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (9–0) vs. M5 Chiyomaru (4–5)—This will probably be Kakuryu’s last match against a Maegashira-ranked opponent, so he’d better make the most of it. (15:05)

MEDICAL: And So the Insurance Paperwork Begins . . . Oddly

So, I’ve never had to deal with medical bills/insurance coverage before … but that’s about to change. (Those who follow me on Facebook already know that I was hospitalized for a couple of days in February, and I’ve had follow-up doctor visits in the six weeks since. I’ll make a post here soon to give details, but let sum up that I’m okay, but I have things to work on.) My first interaction with it, though, arrived in today’s mail . . . and it’s quite puzzling.

To the best of my knowledge, I haven’t yet been BILLED for anything other than the medications I picked up from the hospital pharmacy. I certainly haven’t PAID any money from my personal accounts or cards to the hospital or providers yet. I’ve been waiting for those invoices, bills, and other bits of paperwork to arrive so that I can begin sorting through it.

Today, though, I received paperwork from the Claims Department of my insurer covering four separate procedures/tests/consultations. Some of them I can figure out, others are only medical codes. But all the paperwork agrees about a few things regarding “Patient Responsibility”:

Amount Not Covered: $0.00
Co-Pay Amount: $0.00
Deductible: $0.00
Co-Insurance: $0.00
Patient Total Responsibility: $0.00

Basically, they seem to say that everything having to do with these procedures/tests/consultations is covered by my insurance. GREAT!

Here’s the thing, though. Each of these bits of paperwork ALSO includes a section called “Payment to Patient” that is NOT $0.00. It’s an amount ranging from ~$15 to ~$250, and they INCLUDE checks made out ot me to cover that amount. 

I have to guess that the providers will be billing me for these amounts eventually. Because otherwise, I’m just getting PAID for having been sick.

Anyway, I’ll set this money aside in expectation that it needs to be paid out elsewhere. But I have to say that I have at least a nagging worry that I shouldn’t cash them at all . . . like that would mean I’m agreeing to some deal that hasn’t actually been fully explained to me yet. 

And, really, I know for sure that these four items are still just the TIP of the medical bill iceberg that’s bearing down on me for my hospital stay and follow-up visits. So I’m not going to invest much time worrying about a segment that seems to be resolving in my favor.

SUMO: Haru Basho 2018 (Day 9)

Week 2 of the Osaka Basho kicks off with two rikishi still as yet unbeaten. Yokozuna Kakuryu has been putting in a stronger performance than I anticipated he would be able to, what with the lingering injuries to his right fingers. But those haven’t seemed to bother him since about Day 3, and he has remained focused, something that he doesn’t generally do well in most tournaments. Right now, it’s looking like his yusho [tournament championship] to lose, particularly since the other co-leader is M6 Kaisei who hasn’t yet begun to face higher-level opponents. Still, Kaisei has been putting in A-level performances, and he has been ranked as high as sekiwake in the past, so he’s certainly capable of notching wins against top level competition.

One of the big surprises, though, is that only ONE rikishi remains immediately behind the leaders with a 7–1 record, and that would be M16 Daiamami. Beyond that, SEVEN rikishi are biding their time with 6–2 records and hoping for the leaders to slip up. This two-loss group includes both ozeki (Takayasu and Goeido), last tournament’s champion (sekiwake Tochinoshin), the man-mountain (komusubi Ichinojo), a few fan favorite rikishi (M12 Ikio, M17 Aoiyama), and a random low-level rikishi (M13 Daishomaru).

It’s still anybody’s tournament, and we’ve got seven days of action ahead!

M16 Daiamami (7–1) vs. M13 Asanoyama (4–4)—Daiamami is now all alone in second place, the only rikishi with only a single loss, and it’s getting to the point in the basho where they’re going to “reward” his strong performance with a chance to face off against higher level opponents than his M16 banzuke ranking would normally call for. So he’d better take advantage of “peer” matches like today’s against M13 Asanoyama while he can. (1:35)
M14 Ikioi (6–2) vs. M12 Kotoyuki (0–7–1)—If I told you that this match, between one rikishi who has had a nagging thigh injury and another who is winless and has already missed two days of action from a leg injury, would be one of the most exciting ones of the day, would you watch it? Well, it is . . . so get a-watchin’! (2:40)
M6 Kaisei (8–0) vs. M9 Ryuden (3–5)—Kaisei, after a near-stumble (literally) a few days ago, has returned to his dominant ways. Today he faces a young, up-and-coming rikishi who has huge potential but just has been a little too anxious so far this tournament.  (9:30)
M5 Chiyomaru (3–5) vs. ozeki Goeido (6–2)—Chiyomaru has never fought Goeido (or any ozeki) before in his career. First time meetings are always interesting and slightly improve the chances of new face—basically, if Chiymaru is going to beat Goeido in their first few matches, NOW is the time to do it. On the other hand, Goeido has been hit-and-miss all tournament. At one point we were thinking that Goeido was a shoe-in for double-digit wins, but the truth is that he still has a little work to do in order to secure kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. (14:25)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (8–0) vs. M4 Shodai (5–3)
—Kakuryu continues to dominate his Maegashira-ranked opponents, but soon he’s going to have to start facing the sanyaku rikishi and we’ll see if he really is as strong as he’s appeared. (16:05)

SUMO: Haru Basho 2018 Nakabi [the Middle Day] (Day 8)

It’s nakabi [the middle day] of the Haru Basho—Day 8 of 15. Both our undefeated rikishi, yokozuna Kakuryu and M6 Kaisei, won yesterday and maintain their one-win lead over M13 Daishomaru, and M16 Daiamami. With the exception of Kakuryu, that’s a BUNCH of unexpected names. The action in Osaka is certainly living up to the pre-basho predictions of unpredictability. 

In particular, Kaisei got a little lucky yesterday. Historically he’s got a reputation for running hot and cold (having an “A” and “B” version of his fighting style), and after performing to the best of his game on Days 1–6, he was a little wobbly in his match against M8 Kagayaki. Indeed, if not for the fact that Kagayaki is habitually one of the clumsiest of rikishi, Kaisei could easily have lost this match. As it was, he flopped on his belly just moments after his opponent inadvertently over-stepped backward out of the ring. Still, in order to win any yusho requires a bit of luck, and that’s just what Kaisei had. Hopefully he’ll make good use of it as we head into Week 2. 

Ozeki Takayasu continues to confound me by looking weak and uncertain of himself, but still managing to pull wins out and stay just on the edge of the yusho [tournament championship] hunt. Yesterday he had a long, drawn out match against M4 Shohozan, who is known for high speed, high energy matches. When Shohozan’s style proved unable to overcome the bigger, stronger ozeki, Takayasu still had trouble finishing the challenger off.

Meanwhile, last basho’s champion, shin-sekiwake Tochinoshin also continues to be two wins off the pace, but he’s looked very strong in doing so. Even his losses have shown him performing strong sumo . . . but the luck that was on his side in January seems at least to be neutral (if not fully against him) this tournament. To make matters worse, after his strong win over M2 Arawashi yesterday, Tochinoshin seemed to be favoring his chronically injured right knee. Hopefully that was just a momentary twinge, because it would be a real shame if his old injury started acting up again now that he’s in the midst of a real run at ozeki promotion.

NOTE: At the start of today’s video are a couple of flashback matches featuring one of my favorite rikishi of all time, the mighty mite Mainoumi. He’s now a frequent commentator on NHK.

M16 Daiamami (6–1) vs. M14 Nishikiki (3–4)—Daiamami continues to look strong and confident this basho. Of course sometime in the next few days they’re going to make him start facing higher-ranked opponents, so he’d better enjoy life toward the bottom of the banzuke [ranking sheet] while it lasts. (1:40)
M13 Daishomaru (6–1) vs. M17 Aoiyama (5–2)—Daishomaru is in just about the exact same position that Daiamami is . . . except he hasn’t looked quite as sharp. Also, he’s facing Aoiyama, who IS performing like a contender. (2:40)
M6 Kaisei (7–0) vs. M9 Okinoumi (5–2)—Kaisei got a little lucky yesterday. The question here is whether he uses that as a reason to re-focus himself and bring a Kaisei-A performance, or as an excuse to get distracted and let Kaisei-B loose on the dohyo again. (7:00)
M9 Ryuden (2–5) vs. M6 Hokutofuji (2–5)—Two young rikishi who aren’t doing very well this tournament, but will be strong competitors in future basho. In any case, they put on quite a show in this match, one of the highlights of the tournament so far. (9:00)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (5–2) vs. sekiwake Tochinoshin (5–2)—The two sekiwake are both 5–2, and both want to stay on the edge of the yusho hunt. Of course only one can succeed. The match will hinge on which one better executes his game plan. Mitakeumi wants to keep Tochinoshin from moving in close and getting a grip on his belt. As long as he’s making the big Georgian chase him around the ring, he’ll have the advantage. On the other side, Tochinoshin wants to get in close and stay that way, but as long as he keeps his feet moving and avoids standing still and reaching, he’ll be in good shape. (13:00)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (7–0) vs. M4 Shohozan (5–2)—Kakuryu doesn’t like the kind of high-intensity slap-fest that Shohozan specializes in, but that doesn’t have to be a problem. So long as the yokozuna doesn’t slip into his habitual back-pedal, he should handle Shohozan pretty easily. (15:35)


SUMO: Haru Basho 2018 (Day 7)

It’s Day 7 of the Haru Basho and only two rikishi remain undefeated—yokozuna Kakuryu and M6 Kaisei. Both of them looked strong in notching their sixth wins yesterday, though after the match, Kaisei was rubbing the back of his leg like his hamstring was sore. Directly behind them are a group of five rikishi with only one loss, and a half-dozen rikishi with two losses (a group that includes all the sanyaku rikishi other than Kakuryu himself).

Sekiwake Tochinoshin may have fallen out of the immediate hunt for the yusho [tournament championship] by notching two losses, but I have to give him strong credit for sticking to his winning game plan. This was in fine evidence yesterday when he faced M1 Endo, a much smaller but much quicker rikishi. Rather than doggedly holding tight to an off-balance grip, Tochinoshin kept his focus on moving with Endo as he danced around the ring and then found himself in position to make a beautiful kotenage [arm lock throw] for the win.

Less praiseworthy, though, is the way that ozeki Takayasu has been going about his business. Although he has the same record as Tochinoshin, Takayasu has looked kind of witless the past few days, winning by virtue of his size rather than by good sumo. I hate to say it, but he seems to have picked up the bad habits that komusubi Ichinojo has set aside so far this tournament. (Ichinojo, by the way, is looking like a real contender . . . I have no real faith that he’ll continue this way, but so far he has earned some compliments and I don’t want to deny him those.)

Goeido is a bit of a mystery. He’s flip-flopped back and forth between the strong and focused sumo that led him to a yuhso victory in 2016 and the heedless nonsense that has led him to be kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] six times in the past three years. As we approach the halfway mark in the tournament, there’s really no sense of whether the ozeki will be fighting to earn double-digit wins or rather to avoid make-koshi [majority of losses].

Kaisei, on the other hand, has brought nothing but his best sumo to the ring through the entire first week. This is unusual for him, but I think all the fans are glad to see him “in the zone,” as he does some pretty impressive sumo when he’s there. Tied for the lead going into today, one wonders how long he can keep his concentration up, because he’s poised in the same spot on the banzuke that Tochinoshin had in November, the tournament before he pulled off his surprise yusho victory.

M14 Ikioi (4–2) vs. M17 Aoiyama (5–1)—Two former sanyaku rikishi both near the bottom of the division, both doing very well this tournament. But for a terrible call on Day 4, Aoiyama would be one of the co-leaders. Ikioi’s injured thigh hasn’t seemed to bother him as much for the past couple of days.  (0:40)
M13 Daishomaru (5–1) vs. M15 Sokokurai (2–4)—Daishomaru has been having a terrific basho so far, and is only one win behind the leaders. Meanwhile Sokokurai has been struggling and seems destined for a return trip to Juryo in May. (0:50)
M16 Daiamami (5–1) vs. M10 Chiyonokuni (5–1)—Two 5-1 rikishi going head-to-head. The number of men involved in the yusho race is sure to drop by one when this is over, but which one? (1:55)
M6 Kaisei (6–0) vs. M8 Kagayaki (3–3)—Co-leader Kaisei is up against Kagayaki, the big guy who can’t seem to catch a break. If Kaisei-A shows up, this should be no contest. But if Kaisei-B makes an appearance, the result is pretty much a toss-up. (5:25)
Komusubi Ichinojo (5–1) vs. M1 Tamawashi (3–3)—Ichinojo has put in some really terrific sumo throughout Week 1, and he’ll need that kind of performance beginning today as he starts facing top-level opponents. Tamawashi has seemed a little off his game so far this basho, but we know he has the skills to come out on top against opponents from the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. (8:20)
Ozeki Takayasu (4–2) vs. M4 Shohozan (5–1)—Takayasu has to win if he wants to stay relevant to the yusho race, Shohozan must win if he wants to remain one behind the leaders. Can the ozeki get back into a more impressive groove than the one he’s been showing lately? Can Shohozan out-muscle an opponent nearly twice his size? (12:20)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (6–0) vs. M3 Takakeisho (3–3)—Kakuryu is still looking strong and confident, but his opponent today has spent Week 1 pushing the top-level competitors as far as they can go. Two of his wins came at the expense of the two sekiwake—Tochinoshin and Mitakeumi. (13:55)

SUMO: Haru Basho 2018 (Day 6)

Welcome to Day 6 of the Haru Basho—sumo’s Spring Tournament being held in the city of Osaka. We’re heading into the middle weekend with a relatively short leaderboard. Only three rikishi remain undefeated—yokozuna Kakuryu, M4 Shohozan, and M6 Kaisei. Of course, there are seven rikishi still only one win off the pace, so we’re set up for an exciting yusho [tournament championship] race as we move toward Week 2.

M17 Aoiyama fell off the leaderboard yesterday when he lost to M15 Myogiryu, but the fact of the matter is that he had a win stolen from him by a bad call by they gyoji [referee] and a refusual by the shimpan [ring judges] to call a mono-ii [decision review]. On replay from EVERY angle it was clear that Aoiyama actually won the match and deserves to still be one of the leaders. But bad calls are a part of sumo. The big Brazilian just has to gather his fighting spirit and regroup today. He’s still in the trailing-by-one group, and may yet get his chance to battle for the yusho.

Another rikishi who suffered his first loss yesterday was M14 Ikioi, who was slapped face-first into the dirt by M16 Daiamami. Really, the half-henka move Daiamami used, hitting on the tachi-ai [initial charge] and then backing away, seemed really unnecessary, particularly given that Ikioi has been visibly suffering from a thigh injury . . . but there was nothing illegal about it.

We’re going to see some big-name marquee match-ups beginning today, as NHK tries to take advantage of sumo’s recent booming popularity to pull in big ratings. Today we’ll see an old rivalry renewed as Kakuryu faces off against former-ozeki Kotoshogiku, and the ultimate street-fighter match up between Shohozan and Goeido.

And in the injury report, although the doctors said that M12 Kotoyuki’s leg injury would take a week to heal, he’s back in competition after missing only 2 days. He’s still winless at 0–4–1, but at least this way he’s got a fighting chance to save his

M17 Aoiyama (4–1) vs. M13 Asanoyama (4–1)—Aoiyama was outright robbed of a win yesterday. The question is, how will he react today? If he channels it into his sumo, he can be even more dominant than he was the first few days, but if he gets distracted by the unfairness of it, he could go on a two or three day losing streak that takes him out of contention for the yusho race. And his opponent today is no pushover—Asanoyama has been having a good basho, too. (2:40)
M6 Kaisei (5–0) vs. M8 Daieisho (3–2)—For the first third of the tournament, we’ve seen Kaisei-A for every bout. Can he keep up the focus and continue to show us his best sumo day after day? Or will he slip a little and let Kaisei-B show up for a bout or two? (6:30)
M1 Endo (3–2) vs. sekiwake Tochinoshin (3–2)—three wins during Week 1 is a very good start for anyone ranked at Maegashira 1, but especially so for Endo who, though a crowd favorite, has always struggled when ranked near the top of the banzuke [ranking sheet]. But the week isn’t over yet, and he for sure wants to add to his winning total. Meanwhile, Tochinoshin must rebound from a hard-fought loss yesterday. The thing is, it was pretty much bad luck that did him in—he followed his game plan admirably and looked strong, fast, and nimble. If he brings that again today, I don’t think Endo will have an adequate answer. (11:25)
M4 Shohozan (5–0) vs. ozeki Goeido (3–2)—I’m not a fan of the type of brawling, slapping, brutal sumo that these two rikishi favor, but I DO have to admit that it’s always entertaining when they go head-to-head. Shohozan is fighting to keep a piece of the lead, but Goeido MUST win if he wants to have any chance to remain involved in the yusho race. (14:00)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (5–0) vs. M3 Kotoshogiku (1–4)—Kakuryu is looking strong this basho and Kotoshogiku really isn’t. But this is the 48th time they’re facing each other, and the record is pretty close to even (25-22 in the yokozuna’s favor). When two rikishi know each other that well, anything can happen. (14:30)

SUMO: Haru Basho 2018 (Day 5)

Day 5 of the Haru Basho and the situation continues to be fluid in Osaka. Yokozuna Kakuryu and a group of four others remain unbeaten, while komusubi Ichinojo suffered his first loss, and BOTH ozeki already have two losses apiece. Also, last basho’s winner, shin-sekiwake Tochinoshin, also suffered his second loss on Wednesday . . . which pretty much all means that the yusho [tournament championship] is still very much up for grabs.

Kakuryu continues to surprise me by completely dominating his opponents and looking like a real yokozuna. If he can manage to keep this up, he’ll be sitting pretty when Week 2 comes around. Meanwhile, as I noted above, both Takayasu and Goeido have already lost twice. Yesterday Goeido pulled the first of his “I really have no idea what I’m doing” style losses, while Takayasu rebounded from back-to-back losses on Days 2 & 3 with a convincing win. The problem for them both is that their sumo is unpredictable—one day it’s solid, the next it’s suspect—and if there’s one thing it takes to win a yusho, it’s a steady, reliable performance over all fifteen days of the basho.

Tochinoshin lost his second match yesterday in what might end up being the best bout of the whole tournament. His opponent, M3 Takakeisho, knew exactly what Tochinoshin’s keys to victory were, and worked very hard simply to deny them. Tochinoshin’s performance rests on his ability to move quickly and in balance, closing the gap between him and his opponent, and staying in close rather than reaching and chasing. And the sekiwake was doing that pretty well yesterday. However, Takakeisho kept finding ways to successfully avoid Tochinoshin’s grip and then dancing away to the edge or around the lip of the dohyo. Eventually, Tochinoshin overextended himself and lost his balance mere seconds before Takakeisho hopped out of the ring. It really was a great match, worth going back and watching on yesterday’s video, if you missed it.

Another great match featured the other sekiwake, Mitakeumi, handing Ichinojo his first loss. Mitakeumi was lightning quick off the tachi-ai [initial charge] and got himself immediately inside Ichinojo’s reach with hands pressing up under the big man’s shoulders, forcing him into posture where all he could do was lean and try to maintain his balance. It didn’t take long for Mitakeumi to apply a bit more pressure and force Ichinojo back and out of the ring. It’s these kinds of performances that make the think that Mitakeumi is going to be one of the next great rikishi . . . he just needs to learn to reliably get one or two wins per tournament against the ozeki and yokozuna.

Today’s top matches to watch include:

M17 Aoiyama (4–0) vs. M15 Myogiryu (1–3)—Aoiyama is looking strong on his return from Juryo and is currently one of the co-leaders, while Myogiryu is looking like he’s destined for trip down to the lower division. Still the two have fought eighteen times before and split those meetings evenly. (0:15)
M14 Ikioi (4–0) vs. M16 Daiamami (3–1)—Ikio continues to impress with his performance despite the obvious pain his right thigh is giving him. He’s halfway to his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and seems to be in a better frame of mind than he has been for many a basho. On the other hand, Daiamami is also looking quite good this tournament and he isn’t the least bit injured. They’ve only ever faced each other once before, so it’s tough to handicap this bout. (1:40)
M11 Tochiozan (2–2) vs. M9 Ryuden (1–3)—Two rikishi who are having fairly unspectacular outings so far this tournament, but the match is worth watching because it is decided by harimanage [backward belt throw], a fairly rare kimarite [winning maneuver]. (4:50)
M5 Chiyomaru (1–3) vs. M6 Kaisei (4–0)—Will Kaisei-A continue to show up for these matches? Chiyomaru isn’t doing great so far this tournament, but he does beat Kaise about fifty percent of the time historically. (7:45)
M2 Arawashi (0–4) vs. M4 Shohozan (4–0)—A real street-brawling match here. Arawashi may be winless so far, but it’s not because he’s doing lackluster sumo . . . it’s because when you’re a pusher/thruster timing and a bit of luck are as important as your tactics. (9:35)
Komusubi Ichinojo (3–1) vs. M1 Endo (3–1)—Ichinojo lost yesterday. It will be an interesting test of character to see how he bounces back today against crowd favorite Endo. The old Ichinojo would usually turn one loss into three by being distracted for his next couple of matches. If he really is a new man, he can begin to show it by ignoring yesterday’s loss and getting back into his previous groove. (10:50)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (4–0) vs. M2 Takarafuji (0–4)—So far this tournament, everything has been going Kakuryu’s way, and nothing seems to be going Takarafuji’s way. And the yokozuna has won twelve of their previous thirteen meetings. So everything points Kakuryu’s way . . . which historically when he inadvertently “phones in” a performance. Guess we’ll have to wait and see. (14:30)

SUMO: Haru Basho 2018 (Day 4)

Here we are, Day 4 of the Haru Basho, and already only a two of the sanyaku rikishi remains unbeaten—yokozuna Kakuryu and komusubi Ichinojo. What’s more, there are only five other unbeaten rikishi in the whole division—M4 Shohozan, M6 Kaisei, M10 Chiyonokuni, M14 Ikioi, and M17 Aoiyama. That really encourages the kind of “what if” thinking that can make a tournament really interesting.

Of course, the first “what if” has to be, what if Kakuryu really hurts his already injured fingers? So far, in two of his matches he’s been seen shaking them out painfully after notching his win . . . so it seems likely that they’re going to bother him for the whole fortnight. Does he have the stamina and focus to ignore them that whole time and get his first yusho since November of 2016?

The second “what if” as far as I’m concerned is, what if Ichinojo really HAS finally made that crucial step that will let him go from being a giant-sized joke to a real threat to win the tournament? In these first three days I’ve seen a calm confidence in him that he’s NEVER shown in the past, even when he’s been winning. Of course, I’m a big skeptic when it comes to Ichinojo . . . but IF he has finally managed to learn something, it will change the complexion of ALL the yusho races for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of perennial disappointments, what if Goeido is having another magical tournament like the one he had back in September of 2016, where despite being kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion], he managed to touch perfection with a 15–0 performance and winning a zensho yusho [no-loss tournament championship]? He has certainly proven that he CAN do that, though more often he finds ways to lose matches that he ought to win. I’d say the chances are still greater that he’ll flop out and end up make-koshi [majority of losses], but he COULD prove me wrong.

What if Aoiyama, way down there at the bottom of the banzuke, puts in another performance like the one he did last July, where out of nowhere he went 13–2 and finished second in the tournament overall, with only Hakuho managing to notch a better score (Hakuho, who is kyujo [absent due to injury] this tournament]?

And those are just the most obvious “what if” scenarios. With twelve days of sumo to go, just imagine how many more might present themselves along the way!

A quick note before moving on to today’s matches, M12 Kotoyuki injured his leg in yesterday’s loss to M13 Daishomaru. Doctors say that it will take at least a week to heal, so he is now kyujo [absent due to injury] until further notice (probably for the rest of the tournament). With Kotoyuki having started 0–3, and his rank being so low, this means there’s a very good chance he’ll be demoted all the way down into Juryo for the May tournament. 

Today’s top matches include:

M17 Aoiyama (3–0) vs. M16 Hidenoumi (1–2)—Aoiyama is looking strong so far, and Hidenoumi isn’t. I expect the big Bulgarian will remain undefeated when the day is done. (0:25)
M14 Ikioi (3–0) vs. M13 Asanoyama (2–1)
—In recent tournaments it’s been Ikioi’s spirit and focus that have let him down, rather than his body. So far in Osaka, though, it’s been clear that he is in significant pain, but he has been focused and performing smart sumo. Still, his physical ailments are going to catch up with him sooner or later. Until then, let’s just enjoy the kind of performance that we wish Ikioi would show us every basho. (2:26)
M9 Okinoumi (1–2) vs. M10 Chiyonokuni (3–0)—Chiyonokuni is undefeated so far without actually having done anything of particular note over the first three days. His opponent, Okinoumi, has been likewise humdrum. Maybe one of them will show a little enthusiasm today. (4:10)
M6 Kaisei (3–0) vs. M4 Shodai (1–2)—I often talk about Kaisei having an “A” and a “B” side, and that his biggest problem is that Kaisei-B shows up too often, just when things are going well. So far, it’s been all Kaisei-A this tournament, and he’ll NEED that against Shodai who, despite a weak start to the basho, is a very strong opponent. (7:25)
M3 Kotoshogiku (1–2) vs. M4 Shohozan (3–0)—I don’t like Shohozan much. He fights the kind of overly aggressive, slapping thrust sumo that I just don’t enjoy. But there’s no arguing that it suits him and allows him to notch some wins over impressive opponents. Kotoshogiku, on the other hand, is trying to prove that he’s still got what it takes to be a top-notch rikishi. Because of aggression and inertia, I think Shohozan will take this bout. (8:32)
Sekiwake Mitakeumi (2–1) vs. komusubi Ichinojo (3–0)—Ichinojo has looked strong and smart so far this tournament, I have to give him that. Today, though, he fights an opponent who IS strong and smart. Ichinojo has the edge physically, the question is whether or not Mitakeumi has matured enough emotionally to overcome the new tactical Ichinojo. (10:15)
M3 Takakeisho (1–2) vs. sekiwake Tochinoshin (2–1)—Tochinoshin bounced back nicely from his first loss of the basho, now he needs to try to settle into the same kind of rhythm he got into back in January (which is certainly easier said than done). Takakeisho is one of the strong, young, up-and-coming rikishi who is looking to score some points by taking out the previous yusho winner. Should be a good match. My heart is rooting too hard for Tochinoshin for me to make an unbiased prediction. (11:25)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (3–0) vs. M2 Arawashi (0–3)—Kakuryu is putting on a very strong yokozuna performance so far. He’ll start getting stronger opponents soon enough, but for today at least, Arawashi should be another relatively easy victory. (15:12)

SUMO: Haru Basho 2018 (Day 3)

It’s Day 3 of the Haru Basho and I think I’m going to just quit making any predictions at all. Yesterday saw yokozuna Kakuryu continue to look strong, with ozeki Goeido following suit. On the other hand, both ozeki Takayasu and sekiwake Tochinoshin looked out of sorts and lost their Day 2 matches.

One thing that Tochinoshin did wonderfully in January was to keep his feet moving quickly. No matter who his opponent was, he stayed close to them and never over-extended his reach. If you ask me, THAT was the one main key to his yusho [tournament championship] win. Yesterday against Tamawashi, though, he seemed to have fallen back on his old habit of relying on his arm and upper body strength, and let his opponent keep some distance between them, which in turn left Tochinoshin in an unbalanced posture and vulnerable to a slap down. If the sekiwake wants to have a chance to repeat his January success (or even just to register a strong performance at his new rank), he needs to stay fast on his feet and keep the action chest-to-chest as much as possible.

Takayasu, on the other hand, just looked unprepared . . . against komusubi Ichinojo, no less! Pundits are saying that Ichinojo seems to have had some kind of epiphany and may finally start living up to his potential. That could be, but the fact of the matter is that Takayasu just walked head first into yesterday’s match without a plan and suffered just the sort of defeat that type of sumo begs for. And I’ll grant that Ichinojo was more aware and more reactive than he usually is, doing much more than merely lumbering forward (as has been his wont for the past three years), but he’s going to have to beat some opponents who aren’t sleepwalking against him before I’ll give him any real consideration for being a contender. Meanwhile, at 0–2 Takayasu has gone from one of the likely yusho contenders to a dark horse who has to hang with the pack and hope for other rikishi to slip and let him back into the race (a long way to slip in just the first two days of the basho).

Kakuryu did well in seeping up with M1 Endo, but I think I saw him shaking his injured fingers at the end of the match, as though he’d stung them . . . which is just what he needs to AVOID doing if he wants to stay healthy and in this tournament all the way to senshuraku [the final day].

Sekiwake Mitakeumi looked strong for the second day in a row. It’s possible that this could be his break-out tournament as he tries to get double-digit wins for the first time since being promoted to sanyaku (a full year ago). He’s proving to be a strong sanyaku rikishi, but if he ever wants to have a chance at promotion to ozeki (and for sure he does) he must begin winning ten and eleven matches per basho.

Further down the banzuke, I’m a little worried about M14 Ikioi who, despite having won both of his first two matches, has an obviously painful inner thigh injury that makes him appear to be doing his sumo on one leg. At that rank, he should be dominant (which is lucky for him, and why he’s currently 2–0), but even lesser opponents are going to start pressuring his bad leg . . . and if he can’t get kachi-koshi [majority of wins] at that level he’ll for certain be demoted down to Juryo in May. I hope he can quickly run off eight wins and then sit out for the rest of the basho.

Also doing well in the lower ranks is M12 Ishiura, the tiny but muscular rikishi who comes from the same stable as yokozuna Hakuho. He’s won his first two bouts with the kind of speed and cleverness he showed last year when he first made the trip up to the Makuuchi division. The key for him is to always keep his opponents guessing as to which of his several strategies he will employ, and to every while try something completely new. The second he becomes predictable, out go his chances.

M14 Ikioi (2–0) vs. M16 Hidenoumi (1–1)—Ikioi is clearly fighting injured. Just watch him grimace every time he has to squat. But he seems to be using the pain to help him focus. He needs to get eight wins to stay in the Makuuchi division, and he wants to get them ASAP. I’ll be keeping an eye on his efforts to do just that. (1:40)
M12 Ishiura (2–0) vs. M13 Asanoyama (1–1)—So far this basho, Ishiura has had an answer for everything that his opponents have thrown at him, twisting, turning, and wriggling his way into a couple of victories. How long can he keep it up before one of the bigger rikishi manages to get a good grip on him? (2:50)
M3 Kotoshogiku (1–1) vs. sekiwake Tochinoshin (1–1)—Tochinoshin’s focus faded a little bit yesterday, the question is whether he can get it back today. He’s got what it takes physically to beat Kotoshogiku, he just needs to get his mind in the right place. Meawhile, Kotoshogiku is still trying to prove that he’s got most of his old ozeki moves intact, and beating the shin-sekiwake would be a good way to do it. (11:15)
Komusubi Chiyotairyu (0–2) vs. ozeki Goeido (1–1)—Goeido’s one-and-one so far this basho, but he hasn’t really looked sharp in either bout. However, Chiyotairyu has looked worse. Historically, these two are about evenly matched. We’ll see which one has more on the ball here in Osaka. (12:50)
Ozeki Takayasu (0–2) vs. M2 Arawashi (0–2)—Takayasu needs to shake off the previous two days and get back to his style of sumo. More than anything, that entails simply relaxing and trusting in himself. Unfortunately, he’s not so good at that . . . he’s a fretter. If he’s not careful, though, he could fret himself all the way into a make-koshi [majority of losses]. (14:00)
Yokozuna Kakuryu (2–0) vs. M1 Tamawashi (2–0)—Kakuryu jammed his already-injured fingers in his win yesterday, but he’s still looking calm and confident. I guess that’s what being the only active yokozuna in the tournament will do. In Tamawashi, however, he’s facing an opponent who has already beaten an ozeki [Goeido] and last tournament’s winner [Tochinoshin], so he’s going to be equally confident. (15:00)